Last week ended with the PCs fleeing from the cannibalistic Halfings. Depending on how you fared they were either in hot pursuit or would be as soon as they discovered that the PCs killed all of the guards during the escape. So we literally hit the ground running this week. The DM set the stage and explained that as we fled through the jungle others who had also escaped or avoided capture were hiding in the underbrush. Realizing that there is strength in numbers, we decided to work together for survival.
We made brief introductions before moving on. This let the players introduce their characters. We had seven players this week. Our only new player brought a Human Bard. One player traded in Shakirr for his own Warlord (a Human I think). The Human Ranger (archer) and the Minotaur Seeker (me) returned for another week. The remaining three players used the familiar pre-gens: Castri, Barcan and Yuka.
The DM decided that rather than just jumping into the next combat we should role-play the trek through the jungle while we tried to avoid the pursuing Halflings and at the same time tried to find the best way through the foliage. The ensuing skill challenge was a lot of fun. Everyone tried to make use of different skills even though the DM said he didn’t mind if we repeated actions.
One PC used Athletics to climb a tree and Perception to find a good route. Another used Nature to avoid hazardous plants. One PC used Diplomacy to keep the party’s spirits up as we travelled. Another used Nature and Heal to find plants suitable for treating wounds and staving off the troublesome insects.
After everyone made a couple of successful checks the DM hit us with Sun Sickness. Each PC’s Fortitude was “attacked” and then we all had to make Endurance checks. Those affected the least were slowed and weakened until the end of the first round of combat. Those hardest hit suffered -2 to all attacks until treated during a short rest as well as being slowed and weakened (save ends).
With the effects of Sun Sickness applied we discovered a small clearing in the dense underbrush. It was here that we were attacked. It was interesting to note that it took an hour of real time play to get to combat. Afterward we all agreed that the role-playing and the skill challenge before the fight was just as much fun as the fight itself. As usual I want to tip my hat to our DM for thinking on his feet and adding that extra touch to the encounter.
The combat was disastrous. I never realized how much I hated swarms until this encounter. Swarms suck. As the PC entered the clearing we were beset by small lizards. Two were the size of small dogs. One had a massive jaw and rows of razor sharp teeth. The other was disturbing to look at and had a shifty gaze about it. In pockets around the PCs were swarms of much smaller lizards eagerly and hungrily awaiting their dinner – us.
The swarms moved in and at first just seemed to be a nuisance. That was until we realized that in addition to the attack they got on their turn they also got to make a free attack at the start of each adjacent player’s turn. Add to that half damage from normal weapon attacks, a bunch of PCs still weakened from Sun Sickness and things got ugly fast. Our recent addition to the party, the archer Ranger lasted only two or three rounds before two swarms completely engulfed him and stripped his bones clean of flesh. We’ll miss him.
The lizard with the shifty eyes had a blast 5 gaze attack that dazed. Luckily I avoided the gaze. But that meant that the lizard with the jaws felt obligated to turn me into dinner. He charged and affixed himself to me, knocking me prone in the process. Before I could do any real damage the lizard pulled me deep into the jungle. I was in trouble. The next round, two of the swarms came to my rescue, no wait a minute, they just wanted their piece of Minotaur meat. Suddenly I’m getting it from three sides.
I risked a ranged attack to daze the two swarms. Luckily they missed on their opportunity attacks and I managed to daze them both. I thought that might buy me some time, but their aura attack is a free action so I still got gnawed on when my turn came around. I fell unconscious. Don’t worry Ranger friend, you’ll have some company soon.
But before I was completely dead-dead Barcan and Castri came to my aid. Barcan used his Blazing Starfall to get the swarms with a burst attack, killing one and bloodying the other. Castri used his newly acquired sword to teleport the jaw lizard off of my leg. He then used an action point to destroy the monster in one round. The player running Castri had really hot dice. He didn’t roll lower that 15 all night (no crits during combat, though).
While basking in the glory of an unusual victory for Castri, he was pounced upon by a panther lurking in the nearby bushes. Meanwhile Barcan returned to help the rest of the party as they were not faring well against the swarms. The Bard kept falling unconscious and being revived. The first time he fell unconscious was from the swarm’s free attack at the beginning of his turn. Since he was down he couldn’t do anything but make a death save. He rolled a 20. And just like that he was conscious again. But he didn’t heal enough hit points to stay up for long. Finally he managed to get two douses of magical healing on his turn, one from himself and one from the Warlord. But that was only a temporary measure. The swarms eventually overwhelmed him and the Bard, whom we only knew briefly, was gone.
After the Bard fell permanently, the Warlord rushed into the jungle to see if he could help anyone still breathing. And what do you know, I was still breathing. He managed to revive me… twice. The first time I fell victim to the smarm and ongoing poison damage. But after Castri killed the swarm with a ranged attack I was revived a second time. By the time I got up and moved back into the clearing the combat was finished. The cost was heavy, but the battle was a lot of fun.
Afterwards we talked about what to do when your character is removed from the game for any reason. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does things can get really boring for that player. Whether you’re dominated, stunned, unconscious or dead, missing your turn sucks. As the DM I’ve often let players killed early in an encounter run some of the monsters. This doesn’t always work, but it can give that player something to do besides just watching.
In our case the Ranger was killed early in the combat and watched for about half an hour. I think because we’d had such a long and involved skill challenge before the fight the player didn’t feel too bad about being shut out from combat. As for the Bard, he didn’t die until the second to last round so he didn’t miss out on much. I was unconscious for about half the fight but I had a lot of fun watching the rest of the party try not to die. I understand that sometimes you won’t be in a fight and in those cases you just have to accept it and not be a party pooper and bring the table down by complaining.
Visit the Dungeon’s Master D&D Encounters Archive for all of our ongoing weekly coverage as well as other great D&D Encounters articles and resources.
How did week 12 go for your table? Did you have as much trouble with the swarms as we did? Are you still using pre-gens or are more people bringing their own characters? Did anyone in your party die this week?